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Lattes and Firearms
By: Jennifer Graber
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Citizens across the country have been in a very heated debated about gun control and the right to carry. There are strong opinions from both sides that are being shared in various forms and stages. And now, brands are getting involved.
 
In a polarizing move Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has penned an open letter to shop patrons everywhere. The open letter posits that the coffee chain has been "thrust unwillingly" into a debate it never meant to enter. Schultz explains that Starbucks is meant to be a safe place that customers can visit between home and work — a “quiet respite." He goes on to say that the brand has always tried to do this through listening to input from customers, communities, and partners.
 
Schultz’s letter discusses Starbucks' longstanding approach to the concept of “open carry.” The brand has basically aligned itself with the letter of the law within whatever region a store was in. So if an area prohibited an open carry, so would the brand. And if an area allowed open carry then the brand would embrace that as well. Schultz says, in the open letter, that following this philosophy has allowed the brand to keep the safety of its customers and partners in mind by avoiding potentially dangerous confrontations. Schulz wanted to clarify the brand’s position because he feels as if Starbucks stores have recently, and misleadingly, become a stage for gun control debates (i.e. "Starbucks Appreciation Days"). He points the finger at both sides, and says that the debate should be left up to law enforcement and government — not patrons in the Starbucks stores.
 
Interestingly, Schultz then goes on to ask Starbucks patrons to no longer bring firearms into the coffee shops, even in areas in which it is permitted (with the exception of law enforcement). The brand’s CEO insists that it is only a request and not a complete ban. A complete ban could potentially place brand partners and patrons in even more dangerous confrontations, according to Schultz. Also, the open letter reiterates that the gun control debate is best left up to law enforcement and the government, and asks its patrons to be respectful and responsible.
 
As you can imagine, the reaction has been as polarizing as the debate — the brand’s blog and social media are ablaze. Many have praised the brand for standing up and making a statement regarding gun safety. And others have lashed out against the Starbucks CEO, criticizing his approach.
 
But the question is — was this a smart brand move for the coffee chain? The open letter was meant to clarify some misunderstandings and make a plea. But the letter also makes some bold statements regarding the appropriate arenas for gun control debates. Was this the best approach? Should brands become involved in political situations at any point? Or is neutrality the way to go? It seems like we all want brands to make a statement and express where they stand, especially lately. But this can lead to a continuation of heated debates and strong word exchanges. Either way, a brand would stand to potentially lose customers from the opposing side. Politics are always a fine line to walk, and Starbucks undoubtedly will be feeling the repercussions (good and bad) from this open letter for quite some time.


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About the Author
Jennifer Graber is a Business Development Manager and marketing enthusiast. Her specific interests include branding, consumer behavior, development, integrated marketing communications, and new & social media.
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